It is a privilege listening to so many young people who clearly understand and describe the problems of gangs and who can imagine and need to be a part of solutions. For some inner-city children, their living history is a story of erosion, of escalation, of life lived as if in a war zone. Gang violence has affected so many of them either directly or indirectly, but many, especially black young men feel they live in a society that prefers to blame them, not save them.
Many of our cities have areas that young people described to me as ghettos. Gangs and violence are part of their everyday lives. The children, and many are under 16 and therefore children, are no longer free to play, to move around safely, to enjoy the benefits of freedom of childhood. They cannot avoid gangs; they are groomed to join them or fear them, or are the victims of them. Gang members are often very young, 10 years old upwards, life and limb at risk, controlled through drugs, promises of money and status.
Poverty and feeling of being at the bottom of the pile makes children disadvantaged. They feel their families and communities are neglected and the reality of the everyday life of their parents, many are single mothers, is a struggle to make ends meet. They can feel they are individually powerless, collectively unappreciated by society. Alongside this, children cannot escape the media saturation portraying supposed advantages of being more rich and powerful. Materialism has taken a prime position in their worlds and what you wear seems to be a marker of your status. Membership of a gang comes with identity, a sense of belonging to a ‘family’, of being protected, of having a sense of order, of the thrill and excitement to beat boredom, of challenging rather than being challenged, for some, especially fatherless boys, these can seem hugely advantageous benefits. Those who are materially and culturally poor, who have less to look forward to or invest in can fall under the spell of engulfment through gang grooming. They have little to lose and may perceive they have a lot to gain- status, money, protection and purpose.
The young people I interviewed spoke at length about the police. They wanted local police who knew them. They wanted to feel the police were on their side and not continually mistrusting them and searching them. They wanted justice for the wrongs they had seen dealt out to their friends and families through stabbings. They wanted protection, not accusation. They want to be known for what most of them are, good rather than bad. We know the police want this too – perhaps this is an issue of funding and allocation, but without this, there is a cost to this generation.
Many lamented the loss of social and youth clubs in their communities, longing after school clubs, interest groups, places to go and safely socialise. Schools had once extended their days and social life could thrive and develop. Now many young people make their way home, watching their backs, and stay inside until they run the gauntlet the next day to return to school. Weekends and evenings are spent, many said as prisoners in their own homes. They felt betrayed by successive governments. Cuts took away safe spaces in their communities, gangs now police the neighbourhood rather than a friendly community police officer. Justice seems to be volatile and dished out in acts of retribution by gangs taking the law into their own hands and diminishing the police presence.
Young people want neighbourhood and community, where people look out for each other, feel they belong, to replace the ghetto. They often want to contribute, to be represented as they deserve, as intelligent, caring people with potential, not a scourge on society and a problem to either vilify or sweep under the carpet.
The following podcast is an amalgamation of young voices, some recorded at our farms whilst taking part in our programme, others are our young ambassadors at a bespoke event we hosted at Jamie’s Farm in Waterloo (Oasis Farm). At the latter, Jonathan Dimbleby hosted a panel discussion with six young people to hear their thoughts, ideas and solutions on challenges facing this generation. they spoke honestly and openly in front of supporters of the charity on what they think needs to change. As you’ll hear, they want our collaboration, to be on one side, and they want to belong and they want to feel safe, and they share how they think this is possible.
If reading this in your email, you will find the podcast here.
Others in the series:
Written and recorded by:
Co-Founder and Lead Therapist